"The New
Dispensation—I"


London in a fog — November


(notes by David Page)



notes on the text
[Feb 22 2007]

Publication history

First published in the Civil and Military Gazette, 10 December 1889. Collected Volume VIII, No. 54 of Turn-overs, 1890, and in Abaft the Funnel (Unauthorised and Authorised Editions), 1909.

Background

Kipling had been living in Villiers Street, London for almost two months before this story was first published, after his return to England from India in 1889, but it was written within two weeks of his arrival in London. A letter to Mrs Edmonia Hill in early November 1889 (before the 8th) refers to this story and to Part II (Letters 1, p. 358):

... Look out in the Civil and Military for two things called "The New Dispensation" which I’ve just done...
The story

The narrator describes the problems that he meets in adapting to the usage of the English housemaid when he arrives in London, bewailing the fact that he did not bring with him his old Indian khitmatgar (servant) who understood his needs and carried out his duties as a point of personal honour. He considers the English to be ‘unmitigated barbarians’ for their treatment of female servants, and at bottom, for employing females as servants to do heavy work at all.

Unfortunately, he discovers that the housemaids do have their own dreams, when, in the interests of getting buttons sewn onto his shirts, he kissed a housemaid.

The buttons were attached at once. So, unluckily, was the housemaid, for I gathered that she looked forward to a lifetime of shirt-sewing in an official capacity . . .
The tale continues in the next story “The New Dispensation—II”.

Commentary

This is a polemic by Kipling against the uncivilized use and treatment of female servants by the English in England as opposed to the situation in India. Having just arrived in London for the first time as an adult, and with seven years experience of servants in India whilst working in Lahore and Allahabad, he contrasts the two systems.

In India all the servants are natives, and apart from the ayahs who look after the children and act as ladies’ maids, all the servants are male. In England, there is a whole underclass of female 'slaveys' who often do all of the housework, which includes lugging full coal-scuttles up several flights of stairs from the cellar to keep the fires replenished. When it is remembered that there would be a coal-burning fireplace in every room, including bedrooms, though probably not in the garrets where these housemaids slept, the work involved was considerable. For anyone who has not had experience of looking after a coal fire, there is also plenty of additional work in clearing out the ashes and disposing of them before a new fire can be laid and lit.

Kipling’s disapproval extended to the requirement that housemaids should only be addressed by their first name without any honorific or surname, which again was completely contrary to his own upbringing.

It is known that over the years, Kipling must have become accustomed to employing female servants, most probably to meet the requirements of his wife Caroline. However, when left to his own devices, there is much evidence that he always treated them with courtesy and kindness. Just one quotation from The Kipling’s Onetime Governess: Sylvia Thompson’s Memoir, edited by Jeffery D. Lewins (Magdalene College Occasional Paper No. 26), about her time as Governess to the Kipling children during their visit to S. Africa in 1900-01:

R.K. was always thoughtful and courteous. Knowing that I couldn’t use my eyes, he asked me after a few evenings if I would like him to read the Jungle book [sic] he was writing.
Another example is from a letter to the Editor of the Kipling Journal for September 2006, No 319, p. 60, describing how the writer’s mother worked as a 'Lift Girl' in Brown’s Hotel in 1922-24. She met the Kipling’s who were frequent visitors to Brown’s and recalled that:

After this Mary became a regular visitor to the Kiplings' suite from where she would run errands for him and for Mrs Kipling. Most errands involved going to the local chemist to get medicine for him and on every occasion he would give her both the money for the prescription, and ten shillings for herself which at that time was practically a week's wages.

She always described Kipling as a very kind gentleman and despite their difference in status he was never condescending toward her.



[D. P.]

©David Page 2007 All rights reserved